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Can a guy with a Bronx accent become mayor of Chicago?

Garry McCarthy, who declared his candidacy for mayor on Wednesday, sat for an interview the next day with longtime City Hall reporter Fran Spielman at the Chicago Sun-Times. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Garry McCarthy. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

It isn’t that the mayor of Chicago can’t be from New York.

In fact, the city’s first and arguably most significant mayor, William B. Ogden — who pushed for a new, disruptive technology called the railroad — was born in New York City, and six of the first 10 Chicago mayors came from New York State, part of the invasion of East Coast sharpies who rushed here to fleece the Indians and make a killing in real estate.

But that was then. The last person elected mayor of Chicago who wasn’t also born here was Anton Cermak, an immigrant from Bohemia, in 1931. (Frank Corr, who replaced Cermak for three weeks after his assassination was born in Brooklyn. But he was never elected, nor was Eugene Sawyer, from Alabama, who finished Harold Washington’s term).


Being born here matters. Chicago is called a city of neighborhoods, but that is an abbreviation. The full phrase is “Chicago, City of Neighborhoods Where You Don’t Belong.” So the bar is extra high for Garry McCarthy, the former superintendent of police, who announced last week he is running for mayor of Chicago even though he reveals his Bronx birthplace every time he opens his mouth.

Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times, and columnist Neil Steinberg discuss whether McCarthy sounds too much like a New Yorker to win a mayor’s race in Chicago.

Remember the protracted, almost medieval, debate over whether Rahm Emanuel somehow voided his birth in Chicago by leaving for a few years to serve as chief of staff for the president of the United States? Or the claims that his roots here didn’t matter because he contrived to be brought up in Wilmette?

This is not to go all squishy over Rahm (I can’t call him “Emanuel,” it’s awkward, like calling Elvis “Presley”), an unloved and perhaps unlovable figure whose profile has been dirt low since release of the 2015 video of 16 bullets being pumped into the prone figure of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Rahm, who at best was willfully ignorant, fired McCarthy to create the illusion of action.

Rahm Emanuel and Garry McCarthy once worked together, but now they are mayoral rivals. And the gloves have come off. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

So they’re not friends. Still, when I first heard McCarthy is running, my immediate thought was it has to be a Rahm set-up, the sham candidacy of one of the few men in Chicago less popular than he.

You have to wonder who McCarthy considers his constituency. Certainly not the police, who despise outsiders brought in to run th

e department. Police web sites echo with hoots as every suitcase of McCarthy’s alleged personal baggage is opened and his unmentionables held aloft to the general delight and derision of the thick blue online of officer/trolls.

Even if every cop in Chicago were to magically transform into a die-hard McCarthy fan, that’s, what, 11,000 votes? Where is McCarthy going to find the other 308,000 Chicagoans he would have needed on his side to beat Rahm in 2015? Not in the African-American community. “Police are not the problem … criminals are the problem,” McCarthy says. Ignoring that of course police aren’t the problem, but if you’re black in Chicago, they’re certainly a problem, often a big problem, and not one that McCarthy is ever going to recognize, never mind solve.

As an outsider myself — born in Cleveland, living in Northbrook — I get some which-parish-do-you-live-in-bub? blowback whenever I gore somebody’s ox, which I take as their admission of defeat. Because otherwise they got nuthin’. McCarthy couldn’t resist, as his opening salvo; no sooner did he set down his carpet bag and announced his candidacy then he sneered that Wilmette ain’t in Chicago. Neither is Newark.

A plum job like being mayor of Chicago draws all kinds of vanity candidates who can’t resist testing the water, to see if perhaps the public thinks as much of them as they think of themselves — remember Rev. James Meeks? Explaining how he’s going to keep his day job as minister and run Chicago as a side gig? That didn’t fly.

Neither will Garry McCarthy, who lacks the charm of Meeks. McCarthy is running to seek vengeance on Rahm for humiliating him while he was his employee. I haven’t spoken to the mayor in years — no need — but imagine he will take pleasure in giving McCarthy the boot a second time, if indeed it comes to that.

The Garry McCarthy for Chicago Mayor 2019 Twitter feed was started in September 2017. When I joined last week, I was his 89th follower. By Sunday he was up to 169. Looking around, I found a second McCarthy for Mayor site with 453 followers. Rahm has 129,000.